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9 Confront Your Dark Side
The Law of Repression
People are rarely who they seem to be. Lurking beneath their polite, affable exterior is inevitably a dark, shadow side consisting of the insecurities and the aggressive, selfish impulses they repress and carefully conceal from public view. This dark side leaks out in behavior that will baffle and harm you. Learn to recognize the signs of the Shadow before they become toxic. See people’s overt traits—toughness, saintliness, et cetera—as covering up the opposite quality. You must become aware of your own dark side. In being conscious of it you can control and channel the creative energies that lurk in your unconscious. By integrating the dark side into your personality, you will be a more complete human and will radiate an authenticity that will draw people to you.
The Dark Side
On November 5, 1968, Republican Richard Nixon accomplished perhaps the greatest comeback in American political history, narrowly defeating his Democratic rival, Hubert Humphrey, to become the thirty-seventh president of the United States. Only eight years earlier he had lost his first attempt at the presidency to John F. Kennedy in a devastating fashion. The election was extremely close, but clearly some voting shenanigans in Illinois, orchestrated by the Democratic Party machine in Chicago, played a role in his defeat. Two years later he lost badly in the race to become the governor of California. Bitter at how the press had hounded and provoked him throughout the race, he addressed the media the day after this defeat and concluded by saying, “Just think of how much you’re going to be missing. You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.” The response to these words was overwhelmingly negative. He was accused of wallowing in self-pity. ABC News ran a half-hour special called “The Political Obituary of Richard Nixon.” A Time magazine article on him concluded: “Barring a miracle, Richard Nixon can never hope to be elected to any political office again.”
By all accounts his political career should have been over in 1962. But Richard Nixon’s life had been an endless series of crises and setbacks that had only made him more determined. As a young man his dream was to attend an Ivy League school, the key to attaining power in America. Young Richard was exceptionally ambitious. His family, however, was relatively poor and could not afford to pay for such an education. He overcame this seemingly insuperable barrier by transforming himself into a superior student, earning the nickname “Iron Butt” for his inhuman work habits, and managed to land a scholarship to the law school at Duke University. To keep the scholarship he had to remain at the top of his class, which he did through the kind of hard work few others could endure.
After several years in the U.S. Senate, in 1952 Dwight D. Eisenhower had chosen him to be his running mate as vice president on the Republican ticket, but quickly regretted the choice. Nixon had kept a secret fund from the Republican Party that he had supposedly used for private purposes. In fact he was innocent of the charges, but Eisenhower did not feel comfortable with him, and this was the excuse to get rid of him. Cutting him loose in this way would almost certainly ruin Nixon’s political career. Once again he rose to the challenge, appearing on live television and delivering the speech of his life, defending himself against the charges. It was so effective, the public clamored for Eisenhower to keep him on the ticket. He went on to serve eight years as vice president.
And so, the crushing defeats of 1960 and 1962 would again be the means of toughening himself up and resurrecting his career. He was like a cat with nine lives. Nothing could kill him. He laid low for a few years, then came charging back for the 1968 election. He was now the “new Nixon,” more relaxed and affable, a man who liked bowling and corny jokes. And having learned all the lessons from his various defeats, he ran one of the smoothest and savviest campaigns in modern history and made all of his enemies and doubters eat crow when he defeated Humphrey.
In becoming president, he had seemingly reached the apex of power. But in his mind there was yet one more challenge to overcome, perhaps the greatest of all. Nixon’s liberal enemies saw him as a political animal, one who would resort to any kind of trickery to win an election. To the East Coast elites who hated him, he was the hick from Whittier, California, too obvious in his ambition. Nixon was determined to prove them all wrong. He was not who they thought he was. He was an idealist at heart, not a ruthless politician. His beloved mother, Hannah, was a devout Quaker who had instilled in him the importance of treating all people equally and promoting peace in the world. He wanted to craft a legacy as one of the greatest presidents in history. For the sake of his mother, who had died earlier that year, he wanted to embody her Quaker ideals and show his detractors how deeply they had misread him.
His political icons were men like French president Charles de Gaulle, whom he had met and greatly admired. De Gaulle had crafted a persona that radiated authority and love of country. Nixon would do the same. In his notebooks he began to refer to himself as “RN”—the world leader version of himself. RN would be strong, resolute, compassionate yet completely masculine. The America he was to lead was riven by antiwar protests, riots in the cities, a rising crime rate. He would end the war and work toward world peace; at home he would bring prosperity to all Americans, stand for law and order, and instill a sense of decency the country had lost. Accomplishing this, he would take his place among the presidents he revered—Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson. And he would will this into existence, as he always had done.
In his first months he moved quickly. He assembled a top-notch cabinet, including the brilliant Henry Kissinger as his national security adviser. For his personal staff he preferred clean-cut young men who would be fiercely loyal to him and serve as tools to realize his great ambitions for America. This would include Bob Haldeman, his chief of staff; John Ehrlichman, in charge of domestic policy; John Dean, the White House counsel; and Charles Colson, a White House aide.
He didn’t want intellectuals around him; he wanted go-getters. But Nixon was not naive. He understood that in politics loyalty was ephemeral. And so early on in his administration he installed a secret voice-activated taping system throughout the White House that only a select few would know about. In this way he could keep discreet tabs on his staff and preemptively discover any possible turncoats or leakers among them. It would provide evidence he could use later on if anyone tried to misrepresent any conversations with him. And best of all, once his presidency was over, the edited tapes could be used to demonstrate his greatness as a leader, the clear and rational way he came to his decisions. The tapes would secure his legacy.
As the first few years went by, Nixon worked to execute his plan. He was an active president. He signed bills to protect the environment, the health of workers, and the rights of consumers. On the foreign front, he struggled to wind down the war in Vietnam, with limited success. But soon he laid the groundwork for his first visit to the Soviet Union and his celebrated trip to China and signed into law an agreement with the Soviets to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons. This was just the start of what he would bring about.
And yet despite the relative smoothness of these first years, something strange began to stir within Richard Nixon. He could not shake these feelings of anxiety, something he had been prone to his entire life. It started to come out in his closed-door meetings with his personal staff, late at night over some drinks. Nixon would begin to share with them stories from his colorful past, and in the process he would go over some of his old political wounds, and bitterness would rise up from deep within.
He was particularly obsessed with the Alger Hiss case. Alger Hiss was an important staffer in the State Department who in 1948 had been accused of being a communist spy. Hiss denied the charges. Dapper and elegant, he was the darling of the liberals. Nixon, at the time a junior congressman from California, smelled a phony. While other congressmen decided to leave Hiss alone, Nixon, representing the House Un-American Activities Committee, kept investigating. In an interview with Hiss, as Nixon reminded him of the law against perjury, Hiss replied, “I am familiar with the law. I attended Harvard Law School. I believe yours was Whittier?” (a reference to the lowly undergraduate college Nixon had attended).
Relentless in his pursuit of Hiss, Nixon was successful in getting him indicted for perjury, and Hiss went to prison. This victory made Nixon famous but, as he told his staff members, it earned him the eternal wrath of East Coast elites, who saw him as the unctuous upstart from Whittier. In the 1950s these elites, many of them Harvard graduates, quietly kept Nixon and his wife, Pat, out of their social circles, limiting Nixon’s political contacts. Their allies in the press ridiculed him mercilessly for any misstatement or possible misdeed. Yes, Nixon was no angel. He liked winning, but the hypocrisy of these liberals galled him—Bobby Kennedy was the king of political dirty tricks, and yet what reporter publicized this?
As he went deeper and deeper into these stories night after night with his staff, he reminded them that this past was still very much alive. The old enemies were still at work against him. There was CBS correspondent Daniel Schorr, who seemed to hate Nixon with unusual zeal. His reports from Vietnam always managed to highlight the worst aspects of the war and make Nixon look bad. There was Katharine Graham, the owner of the Washington Post, a newspaper that seemed to have a personal vendetta against him going back many years. She was the doyenne of the Georgetown social scene, which had snubbed him and Pat for years. Worst of all, there was Larry O’Brien, now the chairman of the Democratic Party, who as a key adviser in the Kennedy administration had managed to get Nixon audited by the IRS. As Nixon saw it, O’Brien was the evil genius of politics, a man who would do anything to prevent Nixon’s reelection in 1972.
His enemies were everywhere and they were relentless—planting negative stories in the press, procuring embarrassing leaks from within the bureaucracy, spying on him, ready to pounce on the slightest whiff of scandal. And what, he would ask his staff, are we doing on our side? If his team did nothing to respond to this, they would have only themselves to blame. His legacy, his ambitions were at stake. As the stories began to pile up of antiwar demonstrations and leaks about his administration’s Vietnam War effort, Nixon became red-hot with anger and frustration, the talk with his staff heating up on both sides. Once, as Colson talked about getting revenge on some particularly nettlesome opponents, Nixon chimed in, “One day we will get them—we’ll get them on the ground where we want them. And then we’ll stick our heels in, step on them hard and twist—right, Chuck, right?” When informed that many of the staff at the Bureau of Labor Statistics were Jews, he felt that was probably the reason for some bad economic numbers coming from there. “The government is full of Jews,” he told Haldeman. “Most Jews are disloyal.” They were the mainstay of the East Coast establishment that worked so hard against him. Another time he told Haldeman, “Please get me the names of the Jews, you know, the big Jewish contributors to the Democrats. . . . Could we please investigate some of the cocksuckers?” Auditing them would be in order. He had other harsh ideas for how to hurt Katharine Graham and embarrass Daniel Schorr.
Nixon also began to feel increasingly anxious about his public image, so critical to his legacy. He badgered his staff, and even Henry Kissinger, to promote to the press his strong leadership style. In interviews, they should refer to him as Mr. Peace, and Kissinger should not be getting so much credit. He wanted to know what the elites at the parties in Georgetown were saying about him. Were they finally changing their minds in any way about Richard Nixon?
Despite his nervousness, by 1972 it was clear that events were lining up well for him. His Democratic opponent in his reelection bid would be Senator George McGovern, a diehard liberal. Nixon was ahead in the polls, but he wanted much more. He wanted a complete landslide and mandate from the public. Certain that men like O’Brien had some tricks up their sleeve, he began to rail at Haldeman to do some spying and get some dirt on the Democrats. He wanted Haldeman to assemble a team of “nutcutters” to do the necessary dirty work with maximum efficiency. He would leave the details up to him.
Much to his chagrin, in June of that year Nixon read in the Washington Post of a botched break-in at the Watergate Hotel, in which a group of men had attempted to plant bugs in the offices of Larry O’Brien. This led to the arrest of three men—James McCord, E. Howard Hunt, and G. Gordon Liddy—with ties to the committee for the reelection of President Nixon. The break-in was so badly done that Nixon suspected it was all a setup by the Democrats. This was not the efficient team of nutcutters he had advocated.
A few days later, on June 23, he discussed the break-in with Haldeman. The FBI was investigating the case. Some of the men arrested were former CIA operatives. Perhaps, Haldeman proposed, they could get top brass in the CIA to put pressure on the FBI to drop the investigation. Nixon approved. He told Haldeman, “I’m not going to get that involved.” Haldeman responded, “No, sir. We don’t want you to.” But Nixon then added, “Play it tough. That’s the way they play and that’s the way we’re going to play it.” Nixon put his counsel, John Dean, in charge of the internal investigation, with clear instructions that he should stonewall the FBI and cover up any connections to the White House. Anyway, Nixon had never directly ordered the break-in. Watergate was a trifle, nothing to tarnish his reputation. It would fade away, along with all the other dirty political deeds never discovered or recorded in the history books.
And indeed he was correct, for the time being—the public paid little attention to the break-in. Nixon went on to have one of the biggest landslides in electoral history. He swept every state except Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. He even won over a large percentage of Democrats. He now had four more years to solidify his legacy and nothing to stop him. His popularity numbers had never been higher.
Watergate, however, kept coming back to life and would not leave him alone. In January 1973, the Senate decided to launch an investigation. In March, McCord finally spilled the beans, implicating various members of the White House staff in the ordering of the break-in. Hunt began demanding hush money to not reveal what he knew. The way out of this mess was simple and clear—hire an outside lawyer to do an internal investigation of the break-in, with the full cooperation of Nixon and his team, and bring all the details to light. Nixon’s reputation would suffer, some would go to prison, but it would keep him politically alive, and he was the master of coming back from the dead.
Nixon, however, could not take such a step. There would be too much immediate damage. The thought of coming clean about what he knew and had ordered frightened him to death. In meetings with Dean he continued to discuss the cover-up, even suggesting where they could come up with hush money. Dean cautioned him to not get so involved, but Nixon seemed oddly fascinated by the growing mess he had created, and unable to pull himself away.
Soon he was forced to fire Haldeman and Ehrlichman, both of whom had been deeply implicated in the break-in. It was an ordeal to get him to personally fire them, and when it came to delivering the news to Ehrlichman, he broke down and sobbed. But it seemed that nothing he did could stop the momentum of the Watergate investigation, which got closer and closer to Nixon, making him feel like a trapped rat.
On July 19, 1973, he received the worst news of all: the Senate committee investigating Watergate had learned of the secret taping system installed in the White House, and they demanded that the tapes be handed over to them as evidence. All Nixon could think about was the intense embarrassment that would ensue if the tapes went public. They would make him the laughingstock of the world. Think of the language that he had used and the many harsh things he had advocated. His image, his legacy, all the ideals he had striven to realize, it would all be ruined in one fell stroke. He thought of his mother and his own family—they had never heard him speak as he had done in the privacy of his own office. It was as if he were another person on those tapes. Alexander Haig, who was now his chief of staff, told Nixon he had to tear out the taping system and destroy the tapes immediately, before receiving an official subpoena.
Nixon seemed paralyzed: Destroying the tapes would be an admission of guilt; perhaps the tapes would exonerate him, as they would prove he had never directly ordered the break-in. But the thought of any of these tapes becoming public terrified him. He went back and forth on this in his mind, but in the end he decided to not destroy them. By invoking executive privilege he would resist handing them over.
Finally, as pressure mounted, in April 1974 Nixon decided to release edited transcripts of the tapes in the form of a 1,200-page book and hope for the best. The public was horrified by what it read. Yes, many had thought him slippery and devious, but the forceful language, the swearing, the sometimes hysterical, paranoid tone of his conversation, and the utter lack of compunction or hesitation in ordering various illegal acts revealed a side of Nixon they had never suspected. Even members of his family were shocked. When it came to Watergate, he seemed very weak and indecisive, not at all the de Gaulle image he wanted to project. He never once showed the slightest desire to get at the truth and punish the wrongdoers. Where was the man of law and order?
On July 24 came the final blow: the Supreme Court ordered him to hand over the tapes themselves, and among them would be the recorded conversation of June 23, 1972, in which he had approved of using the CIA to quash the FBI investigation. This was the “smoking gun” that revealed his involvement in the cover-up from early on. Nixon was doomed, and although it was against everything he believed in, by early August he decided to resign.
The morning after he delivered his resignation speech to the country, Nixon addressed his staff one last time, and fighting to control his emotions, he concluded, “Never get discouraged, never be petty; always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.” Along with his family, he then got into the helicopter that was to take him into political exile.
• • •
Interpretation: For those who worked closely with Richard Nixon, the man was an enigma. According to his chief speechwriter, Ray Price, there were two Nixons, one light, one dark. The light Nixon was “exceptionally considerate, exceptionally caring, sentimental, generous of spirit, kind.” The dark Nixon was “angry, vindictive, ill-tempered, mean-spirited.” He saw both sides as being “at constant war with one another.” But perhaps the most perceptive observer of Nixon, the one closest to figuring out the enigma, was Henry Kissinger, who made a point of studying him closely so that he could manage and even play him for his own purposes. And according to Kissinger, the key to Nixon and his split personality must somehow lie in his childhood. “Can you imagine,” Kissinger once observed, “what this man would have been like if somebody had loved him?” As an infant, Nixon seemed to be unusually needy. He was a notorious crybaby; it took great effort to soothe him, and he was continually bursting into sobs. He wanted more attention, more fussing after him, and he was quite manipulative if he did not get these things. His parents did not like this aspect of their child. Growing up in the pioneer days of southern California, they preferred to have a stoic, self-reliant child. Nixon’s father could be physically abusive and cold. His mother was more caring but frequently depressed and very moody. She had to deal with the business failures of her husband and two sickly brothers of Richard who died at young ages. She had to frequently leave Richard alone for months to attend to his brothers, which Richard must have experienced as some kind of abandonment.
In dealing with his difficult parents, the personality of Nixon was formed. Seeking to overcome and disguise his vulnerabilities, he created a persona that served him well, first with his family and later with the public. For this persona he accentuated his own strengths and developed new ones. He became supremely tough, resilient, fierce, decisive, rational, and not someone to mess with, particularly in debate. (According to Kissinger, “There was nothing he feared more than to be thought weak.”) But the weak and vulnerable child within does not miraculously disappear. If its needs have never been met or dealt with, its presence sinks into the unconscious, into the shadows of the personality, waiting to come out in strange ways. It becomes the dark side.
With Nixon, whenever he experienced stress or unusual levels of anxiety, this dark side would stir from deep within in the form of potent insecurities (“nobody appreciates me”), suspicions (enemies everywhere), sudden outbursts and tantrums, and powerful desires to manipulate and harm those he believed had crossed him.
Nixon repressed and denied this side of himself with vehemence, even up to the very end in his last words to his staff. He frequently told people he never cried, or held grudges, or cared what others thought of him—the opposite of the truth. For much of the time he played his role well as RN. But when the shadow stirred, strange behavior emerged, giving people who saw him on a regular basis the impression they were indeed dealing with two Nixons. To Kissinger, it was like seeing the unloved child come back to life.
Nixon’s dark side finally became something tangible in form of the tapes. Nixon knew that everything he said was being recorded, and yet he never held back or filtered what he was saying. He insulted close friends behind their backs, indulged in wild bouts of paranoia and revenge fantasies, waffled over the simplest decisions. He was a man who greatly feared the slightest internal leak and suspected betrayal in almost anyone around him, and yet he entrusted his fate to tapes that he believed would never be made public in an unedited form. Even when it seemed that they could become public and he was advised to destroy them, he held on to them, mesmerized by this other Nixon that had emerged. It was as if he secretly desired his own punishment, the child and the dark side taking revenge for being so deeply denied.
Understand: The story of Nixon is closer to you and your reality than you might like to imagine. Like Nixon, you have crafted a public persona that accentuates your strengths and conceals your weaknesses. Like him, you have repressed the less socially acceptable traits you naturally possessed as a child. You have become terribly nice and pleasant. And like him, you have a dark side, one that you are loath to admit or examine. It contains your deepest insecurities, your secret desires to hurt people, even those close to you, your fantasies of revenge, your suspicions about others, your hunger for more attention and power. This dark side haunts your dreams. It leaks out in moments of inexplicable depression, unusual anxiety, touchy moods, sudden neediness, and suspicious thoughts. It comes out in offhand comments you later regret.
And sometimes, as with Nixon, it even leads to destructive behavior. You will tend to blame circumstances or other people for these moods and behavior, but they keep recurring because you are unaware of their source. Depression and anxiety come from not being your complete self, from always playing a role. It requires great energy to keep this dark side at bay, but at times unpleasant behavior leaks out as a way to release the inner tension.
Your task as a student of human nature is to recognize and examine the dark side of your character. Once subjected to conscious scrutiny, it loses its destructive power. If you can learn to detect the signs of it in yourself (see the following sections for help on this), you can channel this darker energy into productive activity. You can turn your neediness and vulnerability into empathy. You can channel your aggressive impulses into worthwhile causes and into your work. You can admit your ambitions, your desires for power, and not act so guiltily and stealthily. You can monitor your suspicious tendencies and the projection of your own negative emotions onto others. You can see that selfish and harmful impulses dwell within you as well, that you are not as angelic or strong as you imagine. With this awareness will come balance and greater tolerance for others.
It might seem that only those who project continual strength and saintliness can become successful, but that is not at all the case. By playing a role to such an extent, by straining to live up to ideals that are not real, you will emit a phoniness that others pick up. Look at great public figures such as Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill. They possessed the ability to examine their flaws and mistakes and laugh at themselves. They came across as authentically human, and this was the source of their charm. The tragedy of Nixon was that he had immense political talent and intelligence; if only he had also possessed the ability to look within and measure the darker sides to his character. It is the tragedy that confronts us all to the extent that we remain in deep denial.
This longing to commit a madness stays with us throughout our lives. Who has not, when standing with someone by an abyss or high up on a tower, had a sudden impulse to push the other over? And how is it that we hurt those we love although we know that remorse will follow? Our whole being is nothing but a fight against the dark forces within ourselves. To live is to war with trolls in heart and soul. To write is to sit in judgment on oneself.
Keys to Human Nature
If we think about the people we know and see on a regular basis, we would have to agree that they are usually quite pleasant and agreeable. For the most part, they seem pleased to be in our company, are relatively up-front and confident, socially responsible, able to work with a team, take good care of themselves, and treat others well. But every now and then with these friends, acquaintances, and colleagues, we glimpse behavior that seems to contradict what we normally see.
This can come in several forms: Out of nowhere they make a critical, even cruel comment about us, or express a rather harsh assessment of our work or personality. Is this what they really feel and were struggling to conceal? For a moment they are not so nice. Or we hear of their unpleasant treatment of family or employees behind closed doors. Or out of the blue they have an affair with the most unlikely man or woman, and it leads to bad things. Or they put their money in some absurd and risky financial scheme. Or they do something rash that puts their career in jeopardy. Or we catch them in some lie or manipulative act. We can also notice such moments of acting out, or behaving against reputation, in public figures and celebrities, who then go through lengthy apologies for the strange moods that came over them.
What we glimpse in these moments is the dark side of their character, what the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung called the Shadow. The Shadow consists of all the qualities people try to deny about themselves and repress. This repression is so deep and effective that people are generally unaware of their Shadow; it operates unconsciously. According to Jung, this Shadow has a thickness to it, depending on how deep the level of repression and the number of traits that are being concealed. Nixon would be said to have a particularly thick Shadow. When we experience those moments when people reveal the dark side, we can see something come over their face; their voice and body language is altered—almost as if another person is confronting us, the features of the upset child suddenly becoming visible. We feel their shadow as it stirs and emerges.
The Shadow lies buried deep within, but it becomes disturbed and active in moments of stress, or when deep wounds and insecurities are triggered. It also tends to emerge more as people get older. When we are young, everything seems exciting to us, including the various social roles we must play. But later in life we tire of the masks we have been wearing, and the leakage is greater.
Because we rarely see the Shadow, the people we deal with are somewhat strangers to us. It is as if we only see a two-dimensional, flattened image of people—their pleasant social side. Knowing the contours of their Shadow makes them come to life in three dimensions. This ability to see the rounded person is a critical step in our knowledge of human nature. Armed with this knowledge, we can anticipate people’s behavior in moments of stress, understand their hidden motives, and not get dragged under by any self-destructive tendencies.
The Shadow is created in our earliest years and stems from two conflicting forces that we felt. First, we came into this world bursting with energy and intensity. We did not understand the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior; we only experienced natural impulses. Some of these impulses were aggressive. We wanted to monopolize our parents’ attention and receive much more of it than our siblings. We experienced moments of great affection but also powerful dislikes and hatreds, even of our parents for not meeting our needs. We wanted to feel superior in some way and appreciated for it—in appearance, strength, or smartness. We could be remarkably selfish if we were denied what we wanted, and turn devious and manipulative to get it. We could even find some pleasure in hurting people, or fantasize about getting revenge. We experienced and expressed the full gamut of emotions. We were not the innocent angels people imagine children to be.
At the same time, we were completely vulnerable and dependent on our parents for survival. This dependence lasted for many years. We watched our parents with eagle eyes, noting every signal of approval and disapproval on their faces. They would chastise us for having too much energy and wish we could sit still. They sometimes found us too willful and selfish. They felt that other people were judging them by the behavior of their children, so they wanted us to be nice, to put on a show for others, to act like the sweet angel. They urged us to be cooperative and play fairly, even though at times we wished to behave differently. They encouraged us to tone down our needs, to be more of what they needed in their stressful lives. They actively discouraged our tantrums and any form of acting out.
As we got older, these pressures to present a particular front came from other directions—peers and teachers. It was fine to show some ambition, but not too much of it or we might seem antisocial. We could exude confidence, but not too much or we would seem to be asserting our superiority. The need to fit into the group became a primary motivation, and so we learned to tamp down and restrain the dark side of our personality. We internalized all of the ideals of our culture—being nice, having prosocial values. Much of this is essential for the smooth functioning of social life, but in the process a large part of our nature moved underground, into the Shadow. (Of course, there are some who never learned to control these darker impulses and end up acting them out in real life—the criminals in our midst. But even criminals struggle to appear nice a great deal of the time and justify their behavior.) Most of us succeed in becoming a positive social animal, but at a price. We end up missing the intensity that we experienced in childhood, the full gamut of emotions, and even the creativity that came with this wilder energy. We secretly yearn to recapture it in some way. We are drawn toward what is outwardly forbidden—sexually or socially. We may resort to alcohol or drugs or any stimulant, because we feel our senses dulled, our minds too restrained by convention. If we accumulate a lot of hurts and resentments along the way, which we strive to conceal from others, the Shadow grows thicker. If we experience success in our lives, we become addicted to positive attention, and in the inevitable down moments when the drug of such attention wears off, the Shadow will be disturbed and activated.
Concealing this dark side requires energy; it can be draining to always present such a nice, confident front. And so the Shadow wants to release some of the inner tension and come back to life. As the poet Horace once said, Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret (“You can throw out Nature with a pitchfork, but she’ll always come back”). You must become adept at recognizing such moments of release in others and interpreting them, seeing the outlines of the Shadow that now come forward. The following are some of the most notable signs of such release.
Contradictory behavior: This is the most eloquent sign of all. It consists of actions that belie the carefully constructed front that people present. For instance, a person who preaches morals is suddenly caught out in a very compromising situation. Or someone with a tough exterior reveals insecurities and hysteria at the wrong moment. Or a person who preaches free love and open behavior suddenly becomes quite domineering and authoritarian. The strange, contradictory behavior is a direct expression of the Shadow. (For more on such signs and how to interpret them, see the section on this page.) Emotional outbursts: A person suddenly loses his or her habitual self-control and sharply expresses deep resentments or says something biting and hurtful. In the aftermath of such a release, they may blame it on stress; they may say they did not mean any of it, when in fact the opposite is the case—the Shadow has spoken. Take what they said at face value. On a less intense level, people may suddenly become unusually sensitive and touchy. Some of their deepest fears and insecurities from childhood have somehow become activated, and this makes them hyperalert to any possible slight and ripe for smaller outbursts.
Vehement denial: According to Freud, the only way that something unpleasant or uncomfortable in our unconscious can reach the conscious mind is through active denial. We express the very opposite of what is buried within. This could be a person fulminating against homosexuality, when in fact he or she feels the opposite. Nixon engaged in such denials frequently, as when he told others, in the strongest terms, that he never cried, or held grudges, or gave in to weakness, or cared what people thought of him. You must reinterpret the denials as positive expressions of Shadow desires.
“Accidental” behavior: People might talk of quitting some addiction, or not working so damned hard, or staying away from a self-destructive relationship. They then fall into the behavior they spoke of trying to avoid, blaming it on an uncontrollable illness or dependency. This salves their conscience for indulging their dark side; they simply can’t help it. Ignore the justifications and see the Shadow operating and releasing. Also remember that when people are drunk and behave differently, often it is not the alcohol that is speaking but the Shadow.
Overidealization: This can serve as one of the most potent covers for the Shadow. Let us say we believe in some cause, such as the importance of transparency in our actions, particularly in politics. Or we admire and follow the leader of just such a cause. Or we decide that some new type of financial investment—mortgage-backed securities, for instance—represents the latest and most sophisticated path to wealth. In these situations we go much further than simple enthusiasm. We are charged with powerful conviction. We gloss over any faults, inconsistencies, or possible downsides. We see everything in black-and-white terms—our cause is moral, modern, and progressive; the other side, including doubters, is evil and reactionary.
We now feel sanctioned to do everything for the cause—lie, cheat, manipulate, spy, falsify scientific data, get revenge. Anything the leader does is justified. In the case of the investment, we feel justified in taking what normally would be seen as great risks, because this time the financial tool is different and new, not subject to the usual rules. We can be as greedy as we like without worrying about the consequences.
We tend to be dazzled by the strength of people’s convictions and interpret excessive behavior as simply overzealousness. But we should look at it in another light. By overidealizing a cause, person, or object, people can give free rein to the Shadow. That is their unconscious motivation. The bullying, the manipulations, the greed that comes out for the sake of the cause or product should be taken at face value, the overly strong conviction providing simple cover for repressed emotions to play themselves out.
Related to this, in arguments people will use their powerful convictions as a perfect way to disguise their desires to bully and intimidate. They trot out statistics and anecdotes (which can always be found) to buttress their case, then proceed to insult or impugn our integrity. It’s just an exchange of ideas, they say. Pay attention to the bullying tone, and do not be fooled. Intellectuals might be subtler. They will lord it over us with obscure language and ideas we cannot decode, and we are made to feel inferior for our ignorance. In all cases, see this as repressed aggression finding a way to leak out.
Projection: This is by far the most common way of dealing with our Shadow, because it offers almost daily release. We cannot admit to ourselves certain desires—for sex, for money, for power, for superiority in some area—and so instead we project those desires onto others. Sometimes we simply imagine and completely project these qualities out of nothing, in order to judge and condemn people. Other times we find people who express such taboo desires in some form, and we exaggerate them in order to justify our dislike or hatred.
For instance, we accuse another person in some conflict of having authoritarian desires. In fact, they are simply defending themselves. We are the ones who secretly wish to dominate, but if we see it in the other side first, we can vent our repressed desire in the form of a judgment and justify our own authoritarian response. Let us say we repressed early on assertive and spontaneous impulses so natural to the child. Unconsciously we wish to have back such qualities, but we cannot overcome our internal taboos. We look out for those who are less inhibited, more assertive and open with their ambition. We exaggerate these tendencies. Now we can despise them, and in thinking about them, give vent to what we cannot admit to ourselves or about ourselves.
The great nineteenth-century German composer Richard Wagner frequently expressed anti-Semitic sentiments. He blamed Jews for ruining Western music with their eclectic tastes, sentimentality, and emphasis on technical brilliance. He yearned for a more pure German music, which he would create. Most of what he blamed Jews for in music was completely made up. Yet Wagner, strangely enough, had many of the same qualities that he seemed to hate in Jews. His tastes were quite eclectic. He had sentimental tendencies. Many of the pianists and conductors he worked with were Jewish, because of their technical proficiency.
Remember: behind any vehement hatred is often a secret and very unpalatable envy of the hated person or people. It is only through such hate that it can be released from the unconscious in some form.
Consider yourself a detective when it comes to piecing together people’s Shadow. Through the various signs you pick up, you can fill in the outlines of their repressed desires and impulses. This will allow you to anticipate future leakage and odd Shadow-like behavior. Rest assured such behavior never occurs just once, and it will tend to pop up in different areas. If, for instance, you pick up bullying tendencies in the way someone argues, you will also see it in other activities.
You might entertain the notion that this concept of the Shadow is somewhat antiquated. After all, we live in a much more rational, scientifically oriented culture today. People are more transparent and self-aware than ever, we might say. We are much less repressed than our ancestors, who had to deal with all sorts of pressures from organized religion. The truth, however, might very well be the opposite. In many ways we are more split than ever between our conscious, social selves and our unconscious Shadow. We live in a culture that enforces powerful codes of correctness that we must abide by or face the shaming that is now so common on social media. We are supposed to live up to ideals of selflessness, which are impossible for us because we are not angels. All of this drives the dark side of our personalities even further underground.
We can read signs of this in how deeply and secretly we are all drawn to the dark side in our culture. We thrill at watching shows in which various Machiavellian characters manipulate, deceive, and dominate. We lap up stories in the news of those who have been caught acting out in some way and enjoy the ensuing shaming. Serial killers and diabolical cult leaders enthrall us. With these shows and the news we can always become moralistic and talk of how much we despise such villains, but the truth is that the culture constantly feeds us these figures because we are hungry for expressions of the dark side. All of this provides a degree of release from the tension we experience in having to play the angel and seem so correct.
These are relatively harmless forms of release, but there are more dangerous ones, particularly in the realm of politics. We find ourselves increasingly drawn to leaders who give vent to this dark side, who express the hostility and resentment we all secretly feel. They say things we would dare not say. In the safety of the group and rallied to some cause, we have license to project and vent our spleen on various convenient scapegoats. By idealizing the leader and the cause, we are now free to act in ways we would normally shy away from as individuals. These demagogues are adept at exaggerating the threats we face, painting everything in black-and-white terms. They stir up the fears, insecurities, and desires for revenge that have gone underground but are waiting at any moment to explode in the group setting. We will find more and more such leaders as we experience greater degrees of repression and inner tension.
The writer Robert Louis Stevenson expressed this dynamic in the novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, published in 1886. The main character, Dr. Jekyll, is a well-respected and wealthy doctor/scientist with impeccable manners, so much like the paragons of goodness in our culture. He invents a concoction that transforms him into Mr. Hyde, the embodiment of his Shadow, who proceeds to murder and rape and indulge in the wildest of sensual pleasures. Stevenson’s idea is that the more civilized and moral we outwardly become, the more potentially dangerous is the Shadow, which we so fiercely deny. As the character Dr. Jekyll describes it, “My devil had long been caged, he came out roaring.” The solution is not more repression and correctness. We can never alter human nature through enforced niceness. The pitchfork doesn’t work. Nor is the solution to seek release for our Shadow in the group, which is volatile and dangerous. Instead the answer is to see our Shadow in action and become more self-aware. It is hard to project onto others our own secret impulses or to overidealize some cause, once we are made aware of the mechanism operating within us. Through such self-knowledge we can find a way to integrate the dark side into our consciousness productively and creatively. (For more on this, see the last section of this chapter.) In doing so we become more authentic and complete, exploiting to the maximum the energies we naturally possess.
Deciphering the Shadow: Contradictory Behavior
In the course of your life you will come upon people who have very emphatic traits that set them apart and seem to be the source of their strength—unusual confidence, exceptional niceness and affability, great moral rectitude and a saintly aura, toughness and rugged masculinity, an intimidating intellect. If you look closely at them, you may notice a slight exaggeration to these traits, as if they were performing or laying it on just a little too thick. As a student of human nature, you must understand the reality: the emphatic trait generally rests on top of the opposite trait, distracting and concealing it from public view.
We can see two forms of this: Early on in life some people sense a softness, vulnerability, or insecurity that might prove embarrassing or uncomfortable. They unconsciously develop the opposite trait, a resilience or toughness that lies on the outside like a protective shell. The other scenario is that a person has a quality that they feel might be antisocial—for instance, too much ambition or an inclination to be selfish. They develop the opposite quality, something very prosocial.
In both cases, over the years they hone and perfect this public image. The underlying weakness or antisocial trait is a key component of their Shadow—something denied and repressed. But as the laws of human nature dictate, the deeper the repression, the greater the volatility of the Shadow. As they get older or experience stress, there will be cracks in the façade. They are playing a role to the extreme, and it is tiring. Their real self will rebel in the form of moods, obsessions, secret vices, and behavior that is quite contrary to their image and is often self-destructive.
Your task is simple: be extra wary around people who display such emphatic traits. It is very easy to get caught up in the appearance and first impression. Watch for the signs and emergence of the opposite over time. It is much easier to deal with such types once you understand them. The following are seven of the most common emphatic traits that you must learn to recognize and manage appropriately.
The Tough Guy: He projects a rough masculinity that is intended to intimidate. He has a swagger and an air that signals he is not to be messed with. He tends to boast about past exploits—the women he has conquered, the brawls, the times he’s outnegotiated opponents. Although he seems extremely convincing in telling such stories, they feel exaggerated, almost hard to believe. Do not be fooled by appearances. Such men have learned to conceal an underlying softness, an emotional vulnerability from deep within that terrifies them. On occasion you will see this sensitive side—they may cry, or have a tantrum, or suddenly show compassion. Embarrassed by this, they will quickly cover it up with a tough or even cruel act or comment.
For the baseball player Reggie Jackson, Yankees manager Billy Martin was just such a brawling type. Jackson could recognize the softness behind the bluster in Martin’s touchiness when it came to his ego, his changing moods (not very masculine), and emotional outbursts that revealed glaring insecurities. Such men will often make terrible decisions under the impact of the emotions that they have tried to conceal and repress but that inevitably surface. Although they like to dominate women, they will often end up with a wife who clearly dominates them, a secret wish of theirs.
You must not let yourself be intimidated by the front, but also be careful to not stir up their deep insecurities by seeming to doubt their tall tales or masculine nature. They are notoriously touchy and thin-skinned, and you might detect a micropout on their face if you trigger their insecurities, before they cover it up with a fierce scowl. If they happen to be a rival, they are easy to bait into an overreaction that reveals something less than tough.
The Saint: These people are paragons of goodness and purity. They support the best and most progressive causes. They can be very spiritual if that is the circle they travel in; or they are above the corruption and compromises of politics; or they have endless compassion for every type of victim. This saintly exterior developed early on as a way to disguise their strong hunger for power and attention or their strong sensual appetites. The irony is that often by projecting this saintly aura to the nth degree they will gain great power, leading a cult or political party. And once they are in power, the Shadow will have space to operate. They will become intolerant, railing at the impure, punishing them if necessary. Maximilien Robespierre (nicknamed the Incorruptible), who rose to power in the French Revolution, was just such a type. Under his reign, the guillotine was never busier.
They are also secretly drawn to sex, to money, to the limelight, and to what is expressly taboo for their particular saintliness. The strain and the temptations are too much—they are the gurus who sleep with their students. They will appear the saint in public, but their family or spouse will see the demonic side in private. (See the story of the Tolstoys in chapter 2.) There are genuine saints out there, but they do not feel the need to publicize their deeds or grab power. To distinguish between the real and the fake, ignore their words and the aura they project, focusing on their deeds and the details of their life—how much they seem to enjoy power and attention, the astonishing degree of wealth they have accumulated, the number of mistresses, the level of self-absorption. Once you recognize this type, do not become a naive follower. Keep some distance. If they are enemies, simply shine a light on the clear signs of hypocrisy.
As a variation on this, you will find people who propound a philosophy of free love and anything goes; but in fact they are after power. They prefer sex with those who are dependent on them. And of course anything goes, as long as it’s on their terms.
The Passive-Aggressive Charmer: These types are amazingly nice and accommodating when you first meet them, so much so that you tend to let them into your life rather quickly. They smile a lot. They are upbeat and always willing to help. At some point, you may return the favor by hiring them for a job or helping them in their careers. You will detect along the way some cracks in the veneer—perhaps they make a somewhat critical comment out of the blue, or you hear from friends that they have been talking about you behind your back. Then something ugly occurs—a blowup, some act of sabotage or betrayal—so unlike that nice, charming person you first befriended.
The truth is that these types realize early on in life that they have aggressive, envious tendencies that are hard to control. They want power. They intuit that such inclinations will make life hard for them. Over many years they cultivate the opposite façade—their niceness has an almost aggressive edge. Through this stratagem they are able to gain social power. But they secretly resent having to play such a role and be so deferential. They can’t maintain it. Under stress or simply worn out by the effort, they will lash out and hurt you. They can do this well now that they know you and your weak spots. They will, of course, blame you for what ensues.
Your best defense is to be wary of people who are too quick to charm and befriend, too nice and accommodating at first. Such extreme niceness is never natural. Keep your distance and look for some early signs, such as passive-aggressive comments. If you notice that—somewhat out of character—they indulge in malicious gossip about someone, you can be sure the Shadow is speaking and that you will be the target of such gossip one day.
The Fanatic: You are impressed by their fervor, in support of whatever cause. They speak forcefully. They allow for no compromise. They will clean things up, restore greatness. They radiate strength and conviction, and because of this they gain followers. They have a flair for drama and capturing attention. But at the key moment when they could possibly deliver what they have promised, they unexpectedly slip up. They become indecisive at the wrong moment, or burn themselves out and fall ill, or take such ill-conceived actions that it all falls apart. It’s as if they have suddenly lost belief, or secretly wanted to fail.
The truth is that such types have massive insecurities from early on in life. They have doubts about their self-worth. They never felt loved or admired enough. Riddled with fears and uncertainty, they cover this up with the mask of great belief, in themselves and in their cause. You will notice in their past some shifts in their belief system, sometimes radical. That is because it is not the particular belief that matters but the intense conviction, and so they will shift this around to fit the times. Belief in something is like a drug for them. But the doubts return. They secretly know they cannot deliver the goods. And so under stress they become the opposite—indecisive and secretly doubtful. They suddenly fire their assistants and managers to give the impression of action, but unconsciously they are sabotaging themselves with unnecessary change. They have to blow it all up, somehow and yet blame others.
Never be taken in by the strength of people’s convictions and their flair for drama. Always operate by the rule that the greater the stridency in what they say, the deeper the underlying insecurities and doubts. Do not become a follower. They will make a fool of you.
The Rigid Rationalist: All of us have irrational tendencies. It is the lasting legacy of our primitive origins. We will never get rid of them. We are prone to superstitions, to seeing connections between events that have no connection. We are fascinated by coincidences. We anthropomorphize and project our feelings onto other people and the world around us. We secretly consult astrology charts. We must simply accept this. In fact, we often resort to irrationality as a form of relaxation—silly jokes, meaningless activities, occasional dabbling in the occult. Always being rational can be tiresome. But for some people, this makes them terribly uncomfortable. They experience this primitive thinking as softness, as mysticism, as contrary to science and technology. Everything must be clear and analytical in the extreme. They become devout atheists, not realizing that the concept of God cannot be proven or disproven. It is a belief either way.
The repressed, however, always return. Their faith in science and technology has a religious air to it. When it comes to an argument, they will impose their ideas with extra intellectual heft and even a touch of anger, which reveals the stirring of the primitive within and the hidden emotional need to bully. At the extreme, they will indulge in a love affair that is most irrational and contrary to their image—the professor running off with the young model. Or they will make some bad career choice, or fall for some ridiculous financial scheme, or indulge in some conspiracy theory. They are also prone to strange shifts in mood and emotional outbursts as the Shadow stirs. Bait them into just such overreactions to prick their bubble of intellectual superiority. True rationality should be sober and skeptical about its own powers and not publicize itself.
The Snob: These types have a tremendous need to be different from others, to assert some form of superiority over the mass of mankind. They have the most refined aesthetic tastes when it comes to art, or film criticism, or fine wines, or gourmet food, or vintage punk rock records. They have amassed impressive knowledge of these things. They put a lot of emphasis on appearances—they are more “alternative” than others, their tattoos are more unique. In many cases, they seem to come from very interesting backgrounds, perhaps with some exciting ancestry. Everything surrounding them is extraordinary. Of course, it later comes out that they were exaggerating or downright lying about their background. Beau Brummell, the notorious snob and dandy of the early nineteenth century, actually came from a staunch middle-class background, the opposite of what he peddled. The family of Karl Lagerfeld, the current Chanel creative director, did not inherit its money but made it in the most bourgeois fashion, contrary to the stories he has told.
The truth is that banality is part of human existence. Much of our lives is spent doing the most boring and tedious tasks. For most of us, our parents had normal, unglamorous jobs. We all have mediocre sides to our character and skills. Snobs are especially sensitive about this, greatly insecure about their origins and possible mediocrity. Their way of dealing with this is to distract and deceive with appearances (as opposed to real originality in their work), surrounding themselves with the extraordinary and with special knowledge. Underneath it all is the real person waiting to come out—rather ordinary and not so very different.
In any case, those who are truly original and different do not need to make a great show of it. In fact, they are often embarrassed by being so different and learn to appear more humble. (As an example of this, see the story of Abraham Lincoln in the section below.) Be extra wary of those who go out of their way to make a show of their difference.
The Extreme Entrepreneur: At first glance these types seem to possess very positive qualities, especially for work. They maintain very high standards and pay exceptional attention to detail. They are willing to do much of the work themselves. If mixed with talent, this often leads to success early on in life. But underneath the façade the seeds of failure are taking root. This first appears in their inability to listen to others. They cannot take advice. They need no one. In fact, they mistrust others who do not have their same high standards. With success they are forced to take on more and more responsibility.
If they were truly self-reliant, they would know the importance of delegating on a lower level to maintain control on the higher level, but something else is stirring within—the Shadow. Soon the situation becomes chaotic. Others must come in and take over the business. Their health and finances are ruined and they become completely dependent on doctors or outside financiers. They go from complete control to total dependence on others. (Think of the pop star Michael Jackson near the end of his life.)
Often their outward show of self-reliance disguises a hidden desire to have others take care of them, to regress to the dependency of childhood. They can never admit this to themselves or show any signs of such weakness, but unconsciously they are drawn to creating enough chaos that they break down and are forced into some form of dependency. There are signs beforehand: recurring health issues, the sudden microneeds to be pampered by people in their daily lives. But the big sign comes as they lose control and fail to take steps to halt this. It is best to not get too entangled with such types later on in their careers, as they have a tendency to bring about much collateral damage.
The Integrated Human
In the course of our lives we inevitably meet people who appear to be especially comfortable with themselves. They display certain traits that help give this impression: they are able to laugh at themselves; they can admit to certain shortcomings in their character, as well as to mistakes they have made; they have a playful, sometimes impish edge to them, as if they have retained more of the child within; they can play their role in life with a little bit of distance (see the last section of chapter 3). At times they can be charmingly spontaneous.
What such people signal to us is a greater authenticity. If most of us have lost a lot of our natural traits in becoming socialized adults, the authentic types have somehow managed to keep them alive and active. We can contrast them easily with the opposite type: people who are touchy, who are hypersensitive to any perceived slight, and who give the impression of being somewhat uncomfortable with themselves and having something to hide. We humans are masters at smelling the difference. We can almost feel it with people in their nonverbal behavior—the relaxed or tense body language, the flowing or halting tone of voice; the way the eyes gaze and let you in; the genuine smile or lack of it.
One thing is for certain: we are completely drawn to the authentic types and unconsciously repulsed by their opposite. The reason for this is simple: we all secretly mourn for the child part of our character we have lost—the wildness, the spontaneity, the intensity of experience, the open mind. Our overall energy is diminished by the loss. Those who emit that air of authenticity signal to us another possibility—that of being an adult who has managed to integrate the child and the adult, the dark and the light, the unconscious and the conscious mind. We yearn to be around them. Perhaps some of their energy will rub off on us.
If Richard Nixon in many ways epitomizes the inauthentic type, we find many examples of the opposite to inspire us—in politics, men like Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln; in the arts, people like Charlie Chaplin and Josephine Baker; in science, someone like Albert Einstein; in social life in general, someone like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. And these types indicate for us the path to follow, which largely centers on self-awareness. Conscious of our Shadow, we can control, channel, and integrate it. Aware of what we have lost, we can reconnect to that part of ourselves that has sunk into the Shadow.
The following are four clear and practical steps for achieving this.
See the Shadow. This is the most difficult step in the process. The Shadow is something we deny and repress. It is so much easier to dig up and moralize about the dark qualities of others. It is almost unnatural for us to look inward at this side of ourselves. But remember that you are only half a human if you keep this buried. Be intrepid in this process.
The best way to begin is to look for indirect signs, as indicated in the sections above. For instance, take note of any particular one-sided, emphatic traits in yourself. Assume that the opposite trait lies buried deep within, and from there try to see more signs of this trait in your behavior. Look at your own emotional outbursts and moments of extreme touchiness. Somebody or something has struck a chord. Your sensitivity to a remark or imputation indicates a Shadow quality that is stirring, in the form of a deep insecurity. Bring it into the light.
Look deeply at your tendencies to project emotions and bad qualities onto people you know, or even entire groups. For instance, say you really loathe narcissistic types or pushy people. What is happening is that you are probably brushing up against your own narcissistic tendencies and secret desire to be more assertive, in the form of a vehement denial or hatred. We are particularly sensitive to traits and weaknesses in others that we are repressing in ourselves. Look at moments in your youth (late teens, early twenties) in which you acted in a rather insensitive or even cruel manner. When you were younger, you had less control of the Shadow and it came out more naturally, not with the repressed force of later years.
Later in his career, the writer Robert Bly (born 1926) began to feel depressed. His writing had become sterile. He started to think more and more about the Shadow side of his character. He was determined to find signs of it and consciously scrutinize it. Bly was the bohemian type of artist, very much active in the counterculture of the 1960s. His artistic roots went back to the Romantic artists of the early nineteenth century, men and women who extolled spontaneity and naturalness. In much of Bly’s own writing, he railed at advertising men and businesspeople—as he saw it, they were so calculating, planning everything to the extreme, afraid of the chaos of life, and quite manipulative.
And yet, as he looked inward, Bly could catch glimpses of such calculating, manipulative qualities in himself. He too secretly feared moments of chaos in life, liked to plan things out and control events. He could be quite malicious with people he perceived to be so different, but in fact there was a part of the stockbroker and advertising man within him. Perhaps it was the deeper part of himself. Others told him that they saw him as rather classical in his taste and in his writing (constructing things well), something that bothered him, since he thought the opposite. But as he became increasingly honest with himself, he realized they were right. (People can often see our Shadow better than we can, and it would be wise to elicit their frank opinions on the subject.) Step by step he unearthed the dark qualities within—rigid, overly moralistic, et cetera—and in doing so he felt reconnected with the other half of his psyche. He could be honest with himself and channel the Shadow creatively. His depression lifted, as well as the writer’s block.
Take this process deeper by reexamining the earlier version of yourself. Look at traits in childhood that were drummed out of you by your parents and peers—certain weaknesses or vulnerabilities or forms of behavior, traits you were made to feel ashamed of. Perhaps your parents did not like your introspective tendencies or your interest in certain subjects that were not of their taste. They instead steered you toward careers and interests that suited them. Look at emotions you were once prone to, things that sparked a sense of awe or excitement that has gone missing. You have become more like others as you have gotten older, and you must rediscover the lost authentic parts of yourself.
Finally, look at your dreams as the most direct and clear view of your Shadow. Only there will you find the kinds of behavior you have carefully avoided in conscious life. The Shadow is talking to you in various ways. Don’t look for symbols or hidden meanings. Pay attention instead to the emotional tone and overall feelings that they inspire, holding on to them throughout the day. This could be unexpected bold behavior on your part, or intense anxiety spurred by certain situations, or sensations of being physically trapped or of soaring above it all, or exploring a place that is forbidden and beyond the boundaries. The anxieties could relate to insecurities you are not confronting; the soaring and exploring are hidden desires trying to rise to consciousness. Get in the habit of writing your dreams down and paying deep attention to their feeling tone.
The more you go through this process and see the outlines of your Shadow, the easier it will become. You will find more signs as your tense muscles of repression loosen up. At a certain point, the pain of going through this turns into excitement at what you’re uncovering.
Embrace the Shadow. Your natural reaction in uncovering and facing up to your dark side is to feel uncomfortable and maintain only a surface awareness of it. Your goal here must be the opposite—not only complete acceptance of the Shadow but the desire to integrate it into your present personality.
From an early age Abraham Lincoln liked to analyze himself, and a recurrent theme in his self-examinations was that he had a split personality—on the one hand an ambitious almost cruel streak to his nature, and on the other a sensitivity and softness that made him frequently depressed. Both sides of his nature made him feel uncomfortable and odd. On the rough side, for instance, he loved boxing and thoroughly thrashing his opponent in the ring. In law and politics he had a rather scathing sense of humor.
Once he wrote some anonymous letters to a newspaper, attacking a politician he thought of as a buffoon. The letters were so effective that the target went mad with rage. He found out that Lincoln was the source of them and challenged him to a duel. This became the talk of the town and proved quite embarrassing to Lincoln. He managed to get out of the duel, but he vowed to never indulge his cruel streak again. He recognized the trait in himself and would not deny it. Instead he would pour his aggressive, competitive energy into winning debates and elections.
On his soft side, he loved poetry, felt tremendous affection for animals, and hated witnessing any kind of physical cruelty. He hated drinking and what it did to people. At his worst, he was prone to fits of deep melancholy and brooding over death. All in all, he felt himself to be far too sensitive for the rough-and-tumble world of politics. Instead of denying this side of himself, he channeled it into incredible empathy for the public, for the average man and woman. Caring deeply about the loss of lives in the war, he put all his efforts into ending it early. He did not project evil onto the South but rather empathized with its plight and planned on a peace that was not retributive.
He also incorporated it into a healthy sense of humor about himself, making frequent jokes about his ugliness, high-pitched voice, and brooding nature. By embracing and integrating such opposing qualities into his public persona, he gave the impression of tremendous authenticity. People could identify with him in a way never seen before with a political leader.
Explore the Shadow. Consider the Shadow as having depths that contain great creative energy. You want to explore these depths, which include more primitive forms of thinking and the darkest impulses that come out of our animal nature.
As children, our minds were much more fluid and open. We would make the most surprising and creative associations between ideas. But as we get older, we tend to tighten this down. We live in a sophisticated, high-tech world dominated by statistics and ideas gleaned from big data. Free associations between ideas, images from dreams, hunches, and intuitions seem irrational and subjective. But this leads to the most sterile forms of thinking. The unconscious, the Shadow side of the mind, has powers we must learn to tap into. And in fact some of the most creative people in our midst actively engage this side of thinking.
Albert Einstein based one of his theories of relativity on an image from a dream. The mathematician Jacques Hadamard made his most important discoveries while boarding a bus or taking a shower—hunches that came out of nowhere, or what he claimed to be his unconscious. Louis Pasteur made his great discovery about immunization based on a rather free association of ideas after an accident in his laboratory. Steve Jobs claimed that his most effective ideas came from intuitions, moments when his mind roamed most freely.
Understand: The conscious thinking we depend on is quite limited. We can hold on to only so much information in short- and long-term memory. But the unconscious contains an almost limitless amount of material from memories, experiences, and information absorbed in study. After prolonged research or work on a problem, when we relax our minds in dreams or while we are performing unrelated banal activities, the unconscious begins to go to work and associate all sorts of random ideas, some of the more interesting ones bubbling to the surface. We all have dreams, intuitions, and free associations of ideas, but we often refuse to pay attention to them or take them seriously. Instead you want to develop the habit of using this form of thought more often by having unstructured time in which you can play with ideas, widen the options you consider, and pay serious attention to what comes to you in less conscious states of mind.
In a similar vein, you want to explore from within your own darkest impulses, even those that might seem criminal, and find a way to express them in your work or externalize them in some fashion, in a journal for instance. We all have aggressive and antisocial desires, even toward those we love. We also have traumas from our earliest years that are associated with emotions we prefer to forget. The greatest art in all media somehow expresses these depths, which causes a powerful reaction in us all because they are so repressed. Such is the power of the films of Ingmar Bergman or the novels of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and you can have the same power by externalizing your dark side.
Show the Shadow. Most of the time we secretly suffer from the endless social codes we have to adhere to. We have to seem so nice and agreeable, always going along with the group. We better not show too much confidence or ambition. Seem humble and similar to everyone else; that’s how the game is played. In following this path we gain comfort by fitting in, but we also become defensive and secretly resentful. Being so nice becomes a habit, which easily turns into timidity, lack of confidence, and indecision. At the same time, our Shadow will show itself, but unconsciously, in explosive fits and starts, and often to our detriment.
It would be wise to look at those who are successful in their field. Inevitably we will see that most of them are much less bound by these codes. They are generally more assertive and overtly ambitious. They care much less what others think of them. They flout the conventions openly and proudly. And they are not punished but greatly rewarded. Steve Jobs is a classic example. He showed his rough, Shadow side in his way of working with others. Our tendency in looking at people like Jobs is to admire their creativity and subtract their darker qualities as unnecessary. If only he had been nicer, he would have been a saint. But in fact the dark side was inextricably interwoven with his power and creativity. His ability to not listen to others, to go his own way, and be a bit rough about it were key parts of his success, which we venerate. And so it is with many creative, powerful people. Subtract their active Shadow, and they would be like everyone else.
Understand: You pay a greater price for being so nice and deferential than for consciously showing your Shadow. First, to follow the latter path you must begin by respecting your own opinions more and those of others less, particularly when it comes to your areas of expertise, to the field you have immersed yourself in. Trust your native genius and the ideas you have come up with. Second, get in the habit in your daily life of asserting yourself more and compromising less. Do this under control and at opportune moments. Third, start caring less what people think of you. You will feel a tremendous sense of liberation. Fourth, realize that at times you must offend and even hurt people who block your path, who have ugly values, who unjustly criticize you. Use such moments of clear injustice to bring out your Shadow and show it proudly. Fifth, feel free to play the impudent, willful child who mocks the stupidity and hypocrisy of others.
Finally, flout the very conventions that others follow so scrupulously. For centuries, and still to this day, gender roles represent the most powerful convention of all. What men and women can do or say has been highly controlled, to the point where it seems almost to represent biological differences instead of social conventions. Women in particular are socialized to be extra nice and agreeable. They feel continual pressure to adhere to this and mistake it for something natural and biological.
Some of the most influential women in history were those who deliberately broke with these codes—performers like Marlene Dietrich and Josephine Baker, political figures such as Eleanor Roosevelt, businesswomen such as Coco Chanel. They brought out their Shadow and showed it by acting in ways that were traditionally thought of as masculine, blending and confusing gender roles.
Even Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis gained great power by playing against the type of the traditional political wife. She had a pronounced malicious streak. When Norman Mailer first met her in 1960 and she seemed to poke fun at him, he saw that “something droll and hard came into her eyes as if she were a very naughty eight-year-old indeed.” When people displeased her, she showed it rather openly. She seemed to care little what others thought of her. And she became a sensation because of the naturalness she exuded.
In general, consider this a form of exorcism. Once you show these desires and impulses, they no longer lie hidden in corners of your personality, twisting and operating in secret ways. You have released your demons and enhanced your presence as an authentic human. In this way, the Shadow becomes your ally.
Unfortunately there is no doubt about the fact that man is, as a whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.
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